Duke Rides Off Into Sunset
Cunningham's crime is all the worse because it discredits the GOP's efforts to increase national security in the post 9/11 era. It will feed the media, the liberal Dems in Congress and the leftyblogs with lots of fodder for attacks on the GOP, the military and the GWOT.
Materialism felled Cunningham, just plain crass materialism. His honor is gone, but his record remains. In memory of the old Duke Cunningham, here's an excerpt from AcePilots.com on what was the zenith to today's nadir:
10 May 1972
This was a bad day for the Vietnamese Peoples Air Force, losing eleven aircraft. Navy fighters destroyed eight MiGs, six by VF-96 in USS Constellation (CVA64). Three of the MiG-17s were downed by one VF-96 crew, LT. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and his RIO, LT(JG) Willie Driscoll, flying a Phantom F-4J, ShowTime 100. Combined with two earlier kills on 19 January and 8 May, the victories would make Cunningham and Driscoll the first American aces of the Vietnam War and the first to make all their kills with missiles.
They were participating in a strike against the Hai Dong railyards, on flak suppression, when a score of enemy fighters challenged them.
Cunningham's Phantom carried two AIM-7E Sparrow long-range missiles, eight AIM-9J Sidewinder short-range missiles, and twelve "Rockeye" cluster bombs. After dropping their bombs on some warehouses, Showtime 100 loitered to cover the A-7 fighter-bombers still engaged. Responding to a call for help, Cunningham took his F-4J into a group of MiG-17s ("Frescoes"), two of which promptly jumped them. Heeding a "break" warning from Grant in Showtime 113, Cunningham broke sharply and the lead pursuing MiG-17 overshot him. He instantly reversed his turn, putting the MiG dead ahead; he loosed a Sidewinder and it destroyed the MiG.
Showtime 100 and his wingman Grant climbed to 15,000. Looking belwo, Cunningham saw a scene "straight oout of The Patrol." One flaming MiG was plunging dwon, eight more circled defensively, while three Phantoms went after the MiGs within the wheel. These were at an extreme disadvantage, due to their low energy state.
VF-96 Exec, Cdr Dwight Timm hasd three MiGs on his tail, one being very close, in Timm's blind spot. Seeing the danger to the XO, in Showtime 112, Duke called for him to "break," to clear the Phantom's hotter J-79 engines from the Sidewinder's heat seeker, thus permitting a clear lock on the bandit. But Timm thought the warning was about the other two, distant MiGs, and didn't heed Duke's first call.
After more maneuvering, Cunningham re-engaged the MiG-17 still threatening his XO. He called again for him to break, adding, "If you don't break NOW you are going to die." The XO finally accelerated and broke hard right. The MiG couldn't follow Showtime 112's high speed turn, leaving "Duke" clear to fire.
Calling "Fox Two," Cunningham fired his second Sidewinder while the MiG still inside the minimum firing range. But the high speed of the Fresco worked against it, as the Sidewinder had time to arm and track to its target. It homed into the tail pipe of the MiG-17 and exploded. Seconds later, Cunningham and Driscoll, finding themselves alone in a sky full of bandits, disengaged and headed for the Constellation.
The Third MiG
As they approached the coast at 10,000 feet, Cunningham spotted another MiG-17 heading straight for them. He told Driscoll to watch how close they could pass the MiG's nose, so he could not double back as easily to their six o’clock. While this tactic worked against A-4s back in training at Miramar, it turned out to be a near-fatal mistake here. ... A-4s didn’t have guns in the nose.
The MiG's nose lit up like a Roman candle! Cannon shells shot past their F-4. Duke pulled up vertically to throw off his aim. As he came out of the six-G pull-up, he looked around below for the MiG. MiGs generally avoided climbing contests. They turned horizontally, or just ran away. He looked back over his ejection seat and was shocked. There was the MiG barely 100 yards away! He began to feel numb and his stomach knotted, as both jets roared 8,000 feet straight up.
In an effort to out-climb the MiG, Cunningham went to afterburners, which put him above the enemy aircraft. As he started to pull over the top, the MiG began shooting. This was Cunningham's second near-fatal mistake; he had given his opponent a predictable flight path, and he had taken advantage of it. Duke rolled off to the other side, and the MiG closed in behind.
Not wanting to admit he was getting beaten, he called to Willie, "That S.O.B. is really lucky! All right, we’ll get this guy now!" With the MiG at his four o’clock, he nosed down to pick up speed and energy. Cunningham watched until the MiG pilot likewise committed his nose down. "Gotcha!" he thought, as he pulled up into the MiG, rolled over the top, got behind it. While too close to fire a missile, the maneuver placed Duke in an advantageous position.
He pulled down, holding top rudder, to press for a shot, and the MiG pulled up into him, shooting! He thought, "Maybe this guy isn’t just lucky after all!" The Communist pilot used the same maneuver Duke had just tried, pulling up into him, and forcing an overshoot. The two jets were in a classic rolling scissors. As his nose committed, Duke pulled up into his opponent again.
As they slowed to 200 knots, the MiG's superior maneuverability at low speed would gave him more advantage. A good fighter pilot, like Kenny Rogers' poker player, "knows when to hold, and knows when to fold." This was the MiG's game; it was time to go. When the MiG raised his nose for the next climb, Cunningham lit his afterburners and, at 600 knots airspeed, quickly got two miles away from the MiG, out of his ATOL missile range.
But maybe Duke wasn't such a good poker player, because he went back for more. Cunningham nosed up 60 degrees, the MiG stayed right with him. Just as before, they went into another vertical rolling scissors.
As the advantage swung back and forth, Driscoll called, "Hey, Duke, how ya doin' up there? This guy really knows what he’s doin’. Maybe we ought to call it a day."
This enraged Duke; some "goomer" had not only stood off his attacks but had gained an advantage twice! Not what he wanted to tell his squadron mates back on the Constellation.
"Hang on, Willie. We’re gonna get this guy!"
"Go get him, Duke. I’m right behind you!"
Driscoll strained to keep sight of the MiG, as Duke pitched back towards him for the third time.
Once again, he met the MiG-17 head-on, this time with an offset so he couldn’t fire his guns. As he pulled up vertically he could again see his determined adversary a few yards away. Still gambling, Cunningham tried one more thing. He yanked the throttles back to idle and popped the speed brakes, in a desperate attempt to drop behind the MiG. But, in doing so, he had thrown away the Phantom's advantage, its superior climbing ability. And if he stalled out ...
The MiG shot out in front of Cunningham for the first time, the Phantom’s nose was 60 degrees above the horizon with airspeed down to 150 knots. He had to go to full burner to hold his position. The surprised enemy pilot attempted to roll up on his back above him. Using only rudder to avoid stalling the F-4, he rolled to the MiG’s blind side. He tried to reverse his roll, but as his wings banked sharply, he briefly stalled the aircraft and his nose fell through. Behind the MiG, but still too close for a shot. "This is no place to be with a MiG-17," he thought, "at 150 knots... this slow, he can take it right away from you."
Now the MiG tried to disengage; he pitched over the top and started straight down. Cunningham pulled hard over, followed, and maneuvered to obtain a firing position. With the distracting heat of the ground, Cunningham wasn't sure that a Sidewinder would home in on the MiG, but he called "Fox Two," and squeezed one off. The missile came off the rail and flew right at the MiG. He saw little flashes off the MiG, and thought he had missed. As he started to fire his last Sidewinder, there was an abrupt burst of flame. Black smoke erupted from the Fresco. It didn’t seem to go out of control; the fighter just kept slanting down, smashing into the ground at about 45 degrees angle.
Too bad that memory isn't the one that will follow Duke to his grave.